THE 2005 San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala was scheduled to end at 10 p.m. so that giddy patrons could retire to City Hall for a post-performance party featuring more food, complimentary wines and three rock bands.

But it ended closer to 11 p.m., not because of poor planning — the annual fund-raising Gala is a paradigm of how to throw yourself a congratulatory party while increasing the coffers — but because there was just so much important stuff to get through.

Artistic director Helgi Tomasson was congratulated for his 20 years at the helm of what is now an internationally recognized dance company by a smart, well-made video. Talking heads ranging from Mark Morris to London's senior dance critic Clement Crisp lauded Tomasson and SFB.

During the congratulations, someone on stage dropped the factoid that SFB had been "in the black" for 13 years. I doubt any other major performing arts organization in the country can match this impressive record. And so — finally — on to the dancing.

Tomasson opened his program, as he always does, with students from the school, perfectly executing simple, but eloquent, sliding steps to the "Polonaise" from Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin."

Balanchine's "Tarantella" (music by Gottschalk) is an old favorite, but it got off to a rocky start musically, with dancers Vanessa Zahorian and Nicolas Blanc slightly behind conductor Andrew Mogrelia's beat. The orchestra was not in midseason form; maybe its members felt slighted that no one had thought to congratulate them on their 30th anniversary.

Frederick Ashton's ethereal "Thais" duet (music by Massenet) found Katita Waldo and Vadim Solomakha having been beautifully schooled by Anthony Dowell, the original male lead. After that, the "Bluebird" pas de deux from Tchaikovsky's "The Sleeping Beauty" (Elizabeth Miner and Guennadi Nedviguine) seemed earthbound.

Mixing musical styles for variety, Tomasson presented excerpts from "Terra Firma" (music by Michael Torke, choreography by James Kudelka and danced by Kristin Long and Damian Smith) and "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" (music by Thom Willems, choreography by William Forsythe, danced by Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba).

Then he topped them both with his own "Concerto Grosso" (music by Geminiani after Corelli), the Gala stunner from 2003, with four handsome boys from the corps led on a wildly virtuoso chase by Pascal Molat.

After the extended intermission, we got a taste of Lar Lubovitch's Richard Rodgers ballet, "Smile With My Heart," to be seen in full next week on subscription Program 1. With David Kadarauch and Michael McGraw playing the composer's own arrangement of "My Funny Valentine," Tina LeBlanc and Stephen Legate purred through Lubovitch's sweetly intimate connections.

The meaty program — before surrendering its gravitas to the hilariously tawdry pas de deux from Minkus' "Don Quixote" (Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada predictably brought down the house) and to the totally swoony balcony scene from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" (Yuan Yuan Tan and Yuri Possohkov) — sprang two surprises.

"Sin Regreso" (to taped music of Philip Glass, including train sounds) is choreographer Myriam Agar's reflection on the 2004 Madrid train bombing. It was made expressly for Gonzalo Garcia, who danced with passion and grace.

Tomasson's own world premiere, "Bagatelles" (to piano music of Bela Bartok, played in the pit by Roy Bogas), seemed possibly too tasteful and austere for a gala. Moises Martin, Sarah Van Patten, and the new Thai soloist, Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, danced in Yumiko Takeshima's shimmering turquoise unitards.

The "I Got Rhythm" ensemble from Balanchine's "Who Cares?" ended the exhausting evening on a high note.

Next week, the real thing, as the 72nd SFB season commences Feb. 1.